Dyke takes over at GMTV but denies crisis

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The Independent Online
GREG DYKE, chief executive of LWT, was yesterday hastily installed as chairman of the troubled ITV breakfast-time station GMTV.

Mr Dyke denied that there was a crisis at the station, which has had falling ratings since coming on air seven weeks ago, but the true scale of its problems was revealed when he refused to rule out the resurrection of Roland Rat, the puppet that he used so successfully to turn around TV-am's fortunes in the early 1980s.

The surprise off-screen replacement of Harry Roche of the Guardian and Manchester Evening News as chairman of the GMTV board comes two weeks after the sudden on-screen replacement of Mike Wilson, the main presenter. The loyal TV-am audience founded by Mr Dyke with help from Roland Rat was inherited on 1 January by GMTV but in just seven weeks it has lost more than 2 million viewers or 14.5 per cent of its weekly audience.

In its opening weeks it has failed to get its programming mix right and been hit by the appealingly manic charms of The Big Breakfast on Channel 4, which is delivering 6.5 million viewers a week compared to the 3.5 million, a year ago, of its axed predecessor, Channel Four Daily.

Mr Dyke said: 'The ratings are okay but more disappointing than we thought. We need to increase them by 15 per cent.' Christopher Stoddart, managing director, said that GMTV continued to turn away advertisers. But because of the smaller audiences, those advertisers were not paying as much as GMTV anticipated.

The station, jointly owned by Carlton, LWT, Scottish Television, Disney and the Guardian, has to pay pounds 34.6m to the Treasury annually as well as 15 per cent of advertising and sponsorship revenue.

The sudden installation of Mr Dyke, who has a reputation as the man who saved TV-am from certain disaster, puts a question mark over the future of Lis Howell, the station's director of programmes.

She attracted controversy after the station launched for emphasising the importance of the 'F-factor' - the fanciability of the station's presenters.

Mr Dyke refused to comment on the prospects for individual staff at the station but in an implied criticism of Ms Howell, said that while GMTV's journalism had improved recently, there had been 'not enough good popular stories and too many interviews with stars on couches'. The problem, he said, was not to do with presenters but with programming: 'Great presenters cannot improve poor programmes but poor presenters can do well with good ideas.'

He rejected criticism of the station as too downmarket and said he did not regard turning up the F-factor as a solution.

(Photograph omitted)